As Pinellas County's state-bound wrestlers work to perfect their moves and drop those last few ounces of weight for this weekend's state meet, it's time to take a look at the top prospects for taking the podium Saturday in Lakeland.
Last season three Pinellas wrestlers broke through to the top of their weight classes. This season, county wrestlers could equal or surpass that mark.
A look at the county's six best bets for a state title, in order:
Jared Prince, Jr., Palm Harbor U., 62-0, 126 pounds, Class 3A: A year ago, Prince beat three-time state champion James Flint of Brandon to claim his first individual title. This season Prince carries a 62-0 record into the state meet and an overall 121-match win streak. Prince should make the final, where second-ranked Evan McCall of Fleming Island or Tyler Sage of Cypress Bay may await him. Prince beat Sage via a tech fall 15-0 at the District 16 Duals in December in Miami. Prince's biggest victory this season is a 6-5 nail-biter over nationally ranked Dalton Macri of Canon McMillan in Pennsylvania at the Buzz Hill Invitational in January. It's an upset if anyone beats Prince.
Connor Prince, Jr. Palm Harbor U., 61-0, 132 pounds, Class 3A: Jared's twin brother, Connor is already the top-ranked wrestler in his weight class in 3A, boasting a 61-0 record. He will likely face second-ranked Miami South Dade's Justin Ramirez (50-5) in Round 2 at state, but Prince pinned him at the District 16 Duals and won by major decision at the Knockout Classic in December. Later on in the tournament, Prince could face third-ranked Charles Cuthbert of Fleming Island, whom he beat 7-2 in the semifinals at the Knockout Classic. Then there's North Port's fourth-ranked John Cruz or Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas' Nick Abenoza. Prince has a tech fall over Abenoza from District 16 Duals and a 10-3 win against Cruz last weekend at region. This could be the year the Prince twins pose for photos together holding championship medals.
Aaron Hartman, Sr., Palm Harbor U., 55-2, 145 pounds, Class 3A: Hartman is wrapping up an accomplished high school career. He is a four-time Pinellas County Athletic Conference champion. He already has been to state four times, losing in the championship round twice. He has a scholarship to Hofstra and he's 55-2 and ranked third coming into the tournament. Now he's looking for a state title. Hartman could go without facing anyone ranked higher than seventh until the semifinals, where he could meet top-ranked Damian Penichet of Miami's Christopher Columbus. If Hartman gets through the semis, he will likely get either fifth-ranked Giovanni Bonilla of Osceola or Isaiah Crosby of South Dade. Hartman beat both this year, Bonilla 10-1 at the Knockout Classic, and Crosby 4-2 at District 16 Duals.
Andre Matthews, Sr., Dixie Hollins, 31-0, 285 pounds, Class 2A: Matthews is ranked second and undefeated at 31-0. He logged wins at the St. Petersburg City tournament, the Anclote Invitational, the PCAC, district and region, where he beat fourth-ranked Bucky Dennis of Charlotte 3-1 in the final. Matthews' biggest feat this season is his title run at the Buzz Hill Invitational, where he beat top-ranked (in 3A) Colton Lynn of St. Thomas Aquinas. Matthews' top 2A threat is Jesuit's Austin Underwood, who is also 31-0 and accepted a scholarship offer to wrestle for the University of Virginia. Matthews should reach the final, but Underwood is a daunting obstacle.
Conner Allshouse, So., Indian Rocks Chr., 41-2, 152 pounds, Class A: Allshouse is ranked third coming into the weekend. He finished fifth last year at state at 138 pounds. He is a district and region champion, having beaten fourth-ranked Connor Steinfeld of Sarasota Military Academy in back-to-back finals of the district and region tournaments. Should Allshouse reach the semifinals, he most likely will face second-ranked Imier Almanzer of Clay. If Allshouse reaches the final, top-ranked and defending champ Jake Spengler of Lake Highland Prep (48-0) likely awaits. Spengler is set to wrestle for Virginia Tech next season.
Anthony Parisi, Sr., Seminole, 41-1, 138 pounds, Class 3A: Parisi, a transfer from Easton High in Pennsylvania, went 41-1, his only loss coming in the final of the East Lake Invitational against PHU's Anthony Agazarm. Parisi's battles with Agazarm have become legendary locally, but the 3A 138-pound class is strong in South Florida. Parisi is likely to get through his first two rounds, but could meet top-ranked Pat Lugo of Miami South Dade in the semifinals. Lugo is 49-0 and pinned Agazarm in the District 16 Duals. Should Parisi survive, second-ranked Sal Guerriero of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas could be ahead. Guerriero is 49-4 and beat Agazarm 10-4. Agazarm has Lugo in Round 1, and can't be ruled out.
Where: The Lakeland Center
Admission: $9 per session; $8 for parking.
Friday: First round 10 a.m. with wrestlebacks and second round to follow.
Saturday: Wrestlebacks 9:30 a.m. with semifinals to follow; championship finals 5:30 p.m.